It was a breezy warm April morning & I had just left our motel room on the second floor, going down for a walk and inhaling the salty Florida tropical air. I was on the third day of my vacation, and it was beginning to relax my nerves. The sky was a friendly blue, the palms swaying gently, but doesn’t everything seem to look better in Florida?
As I turned my phone on, a reddish hued gecko made its way up the trunk of a nearby tree, embracing the day, much like I was about to.
My phone buzzed, an angry & distracting sound, then again and again. I had missed multiple calls. 3 were from my mother. I sighed inwardly, a deep thready response to her inability to separate from me. One was from my brother.
My mom began just curious, a bit needy about our vacation, missing us. Her voice drifted off by the third call, and she sounded tired, almost drunk. But her words were eerie: I love you guys and I always will.
It sounded like she was saying goodbye. I chalked it up to her usual machinations of obligation and the suddenness of being without a house full of people. It must be so silent for her now.
The next message from my brother came in quick & alarming.
Mom had a heart attack last night. She is in the hospital. Call me.
Immediately, everything dropped away, much like my knees as I slid to the pavement, cradling my phone so it wouldn’t fall. I reached him on the first ring.
She’s going to get a stent, you don’t need to come.
Every impulse in my body felt wrong, stunted. How could I just leave her behind? How could I not rush to her side? But he reassured me she would be OK.
It was late in the afternoon a day later when I found out this was not to be the case.
She coded on the table when they tried the stent. They told me I needed to make a decision, let her die or have open heart surgery. So, I did. I told them to make her have the operation.
During the operation, which at her 76 years she survived, there was several instances of coding, and ultimately she made it, but with a massive right hemisphere stroke. Her recovery was messy. She had to be intubated, out on a respirator, chest drain. She developed a large back ulcer from spending 2 months on her back. Her heels began to show signs of pressure sores forming beneath the skin.
The worst part was not being able to communicate with her. And in light of the fact that I had ignored her calls the night it happened, I felt I couldn’t forgive myself. How did I know this was going to be the last time I ever would speak to my mom? It haunted me.
And then came the days when she woke up & showed signs of improvement. By this point she had a peg (stomach feeding) tube, a tube in her throat, and her hands gloved so she wouldn’t fight back to take the tubes out.
We were hopeful. I was happy one day when she began mouthing words. They didn’t make a whole lot of sense at first, but I got her to understand what had happened, that she had been “out” for the majority of the spring, it was summer now. She was aggravated that she could not go home.
The next day was the 4th of July. It began much like any day, I had a good one, I spent some time on the porch, poring over documents to get my mother admitted to Medicaid and to stay in the nursing home she was in.
In the evening, I got several calls from a number I did not recognize. I was used to getting telemarketers, and this was nothing different, surely.
Until I checked them. It was from the nursing home she was in & they were urgent. Maybe denial played a huge part in why I didn’t call them back. I figured it was paperwork related. When I got on the phone, the worker on the other end was breathy, telling me in rapid fire that my mom had died and I needed to get a funeral home to take her because they didn’t have a morgue.
My world was spinning, I was alone, it was night, and I had to find the strength to begin making arrangements.